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SECOND DIVISION

[A.C. No. 5280. March 30, 2004.]

WILLIAM S. UY, complainant , vs. ATTY. FERMIN L. GONZALES,


respondent .

RESOLUTION

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J : p

William S. Uy filed before this Court an administrative case against Atty. Fermin L.
Gonzales for violation of the confidentiality of their lawyer-client relationship. The
complainant alleges:

Sometime in April 1999, he engaged the services of respondent lawyer to prepare


and file a petition for the issuance of a new certificate of title. After confiding with
respondent the circumstances surrounding the lost title and discussing the fees and costs,
respondent prepared, finalized and submitted to him a petition to be filed before the
Regional Trial Court of Tayug, Pangasinan. When the petition was about to be filed,
respondent went to his (complainant's) office at Virra Mall, Greenhills and demanded a
certain amount from him other than what they had previously agreed upon. Respondent left
his office after reasoning with him. Expecting that said petition would be filed, he was
shocked to find out later that instead of filing the petition for the issuance of a new
certificate of title, respondent filed a letter-complaint dated July 26, 1999 against him with
the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Tayug, Pangasinan for "Falsification of Public
Documents." 1 The letter-complaint contained facts and circumstances pertaining to the
transfer certificate of title that was the subject matter of the petition which respondent was
supposed to have filed. Portions of said letter-complaint read:

The undersigned complainant accuses WILLIAM S. UY, of legal age,


Filipino, married and a resident of 132-A Gilmore Street corner 9th Street, New
Manila, Quezon City, Michael Angelo T. UY, CRISTINA EARL T. UY, minors and
residents of the aforesaid address, Luviminda G. Tomagos, of legal age, married,
Filipino and a resident of Carmay East, Rosales, Pangasinan, and F. Madayag,
with office address at A12, 2/F Vira Mall Shopping Complex, Greenhills, San
Juan, Metro Manila, for ESTAFA THRU FALSIFICATION OF PUBLIC
DOCUMENTS, committed as follows:

That on March 15, 1996, William S. Uy acquired by purchase a parcel of


land consisting of 4.001 ha. for the amount of P100,000.00, Philippine Currency,
situated at Brgy. Gonzales, Umingan, Pangasinan, from FERMIN C. GONZALES,
as evidenced by a Deed of Sale executed by the latter in favor of the former . . .;
that in the said date, William S. Uy received the Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-
33122, covering the said land;
That instead of registering said Deed of Sale and Transfer Certificate of
Title (TCT) No. T-33122, in the Register of Deeds for the purpose of transferring
the same in his name, William S. Uy executed a Deed of Voluntary Land Transfer
of the aforesaid land in favor of his children, namely, Michael Angelo T. Uy and
Cristina Earl T. Uy, wherein William S. Uy made it appear that his said children
are of legal age, and residents of Brgy. Gonzales, Umingan, Pangasinan, when in
fact and in truth, they are minors and residents of Metro Manila, to qualify them as
farmers/beneficiaries, thus placing the said property within the coverage of the
Land Reform Program; Ec HIDT

That the above-named accused, conspiring together and helping one


another procured the falsified documents which they used as supporting papers
so that they can secure from the Office of the Register of Deeds of Tayug,
Pangasinan, TCT No. T-5165 (Certificate of Land Ownership Award No. 004
32930) in favor of his above-named children. Some of these Falsified documents
are purported Affidavit of Seller/Transferor and Affidavit of Non-Tenancy, both
dated August 20, 1996, without the signature of affiant, Fermin C. Gonzales, and
that on that said date, Fermin C. Gonzales was already dead . . .;

That on December 17, 1998, William S. Uy with deceit and evident intent
to defraud undersigned, still accepted the amount of P340,000.00, from Atty.
Fermin L. Gonzales, P300,000.00, in PNB Check No. 0000606, and P40,000.00,
in cash, as full payment of the redemption of TCT No. 33122 . . . knowing fully
well that at that time the said TCT cannot be redeemed anymore because the
same was already transferred in the name of his children;

That William S. Uy has appropriated the amount covered by the aforesaid


check, as evidenced by the said check which was encashed by him . . .;

That inspite of repeated demands, both oral and in writing, William S. Uy


refused and continue to refuse to deliver to him a TCT in the name of the
undersigned or to return and repay the said P340,000.00, to the damage and
prejudice of the undersigned. 2

With the execution of the letter-complaint, respondent violated his oath as a lawyer and
grossly disregarded his duty to preserve the secrets of his client. Respondent
unceremoniously turned against him just because he refused to grant respondent's
request for additional compensation. Respondent's act tarnished his reputation and
social standing. 3

In compliance with this Court's Resolution dated July 31, 2000, 4 respondent filed his
Comment narrating his version, as follows:

On December 17, 1998, he offered to redeem from complainant a 4.9 hectare-


property situated in Brgy. Gonzales, Umingan, Pangasinan covered by TCT No. T-33122
which the latter acquired by purchase from his (respondent's) son, the late Fermin C.
Gonzales, Jr.. On the same date, he paid complainant P340,000.00 and demanded the
delivery of TCT No. T-33122 as well as the execution of the Deed of Redemption. Upon
request, he gave complainant additional time to locate said title or until after Christmas to
deliver the same and execute the Deed of Redemption. After the said period, he went to
complainant's office and demanded the delivery of the title and the execution of the Deed of
Redemption. Instead, complainant gave him photocopies of TCT No. T-33122 and TCT No.
T-5165. Complainant explained that he had already transferred the title of the property,
covered by TCT No. T-5165 to his children Michael and Cristina Uy and that TCT No. T-
5165 was misplaced and cannot be located despite efforts to locate it. Wanting to protect
his interest over the property coupled with his desire to get hold of TCT No. T-5165 the
earliest possible time, he offered his assistance pro bono to prepare a petition for lost title
provided that all necessary expenses incident thereto including expenses for transportation
and others, estimated at P20,000.00, will be shouldered by complainant. To these,
complainant agreed.

On April 9, 1999, he submitted to complainant a draft of the petition for the lost title
ready for signing and notarization. On April 14, 1999, he went to complainant's office
informing him that the petition is ready for filing and needs funds for expenses. Complainant
who was with a client asked him to wait at the anteroom where he waited for almost two
hours until he found out that complainant had already left without leaving any instructions
nor funds for the filing of the petition. Complainant's conduct infuriated him which prompted
him to give a handwritten letter telling complainant that he is withdrawing the petition he
prepared and that complainant should get another lawyer to file the petition.

Respondent maintains that the lawyer-client relationship between him and


complainant was terminated when he gave the handwritten letter to complainant; that there
was no longer any professional relationship between the two of them when he filed the
letter-complaint for falsification of public document; that the facts and allegations contained
in the letter-complaint for falsification were culled from public documents procured from the
Office of the Register of Deeds in Tayug, Pangasinan. 5

In a Resolution dated October 18, 2000, the Court referred the case to the Integrated
Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation. 6

Commissioner Rebecca Villanueva-Maala ordered both parties to appear on April 2,


2003 before the IBP. 7 On said date, complainant did not appear despite due notice. There
was no showing that respondent received the notice for that day's hearing and so the
hearing was reset to May 28, 2003. 8

On April 29, 2003, Commissioner Villanueva-Maala received a letter from one Atty.
Augusto M. Macam dated April 24, 2003, stating that his client, William S. Uy, had lost
interest in pursuing the complaint he filed against Atty. Gonzales and requesting that the
case against Atty. Gonzales be dismissed. 9

On June 2, 2003, Commissioner Villanueva-Maala submitted her report and


recommendation, portions of which read as follows:

The facts and evidence presented show that when respondent agreed to
handle the filing of the Verified Petition for the loss of TCT No. T-5165,
complainant had confided to respondent the fact of the loss and the
circumstances attendant thereto. When respondent filed the Letter-Complaint to
the Office of the Special Prosecutor in Tayug, Pangasinan, he violated Canon 21
of the Code of Professional Responsibility which expressly provides that "A
lawyer shall preserve the confidences and secrets of his client even after the
attorney-client relation is terminated." Respondent cannot argue that there was no
lawyer-client relationship between them when he filed the Letter-Complaint on 26
July 1999 considering that as early as 14 April 1999, or three (3) months after,
respondent had already terminated complainant's perceived lawyer-client
relationship between them. The duty to maintain inviolate the client's confidences
and secrets is not temporary but permanent. It is in effect perpetual for "it outlasts
the lawyer's employment" (Canon 37, Code of Professional Responsibility) which
means even after the relationship has been terminated, the duty to preserve the
client's confidences and secrets remains effective. Likewise Rule 21.02, Canon
21 of the Rules of Professional Responsibility provides that "A lawyer shall not, to
the disadvantage of his client, use information acquired in the course of
employment, nor shall he use the same to his own advantage or that of a third
person, unless the client with the full knowledge of the circumstances consents
thereto."TSEHc A

On 29 April 2003, the Commission received a letter dated 24 April 2003


from Atty. Augusto M. Macam, who claims to represent complainant, William S.
Uy, alleging that complainant is no longer interested in pursuing this case and
requested that the same be dismissed. The aforesaid letter hardly deserves
consideration as proceedings of this nature cannot be "interrupted by reason of
desistance, settlement, compromise, restitution, withdrawal of the charges, or
failure of the complainant to prosecute the same. (Section 5, Rule 139-B, Rules
of Court). Moreover, in Boliver vs . Simbol, 16 SCRA 623, the Court ruled that
"any person may bring to this Court's attention the misconduct of any lawyer,
and action will usually be taken regardless of the interest or lack of interest of
the complainant, if the facts proven so warrant."

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, we find respondent Atty. Fermin L.


Gonzales to have violated the Code of Professional Responsibility and it is
hereby recommended that he be SUSPENDED for a period of SIX (6) MONTHS
from receipt hereof, from the practice of his profession as a lawyer and member of
the Bar. 10

On June 21, 2003, the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
issued Resolution No. XV-2003-365, thus:

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and


APPROVED, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating
Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of this
Resolution/Decision as Annex "A"; and finding the recommendation fully
supported by the evidence on record and applicable laws and rules, and
considering that respondent violated Rule 21.02, Canon 21 of the Canons of
Professional Responsibility, Atty. Fermin L. Gonzales is hereby SUSPENDED
from the practice of law for six (6) months. 11

Preliminarily, we agree with Commissioner Villanueva-Maala that the manifestation


of complainant Uy expressing his desire to dismiss the administrative complaint he filed
against respondent, has no persuasive bearing in the present case.

Sec. 5, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court states that:


xxx xxx xxx

No investigation shall be interrupted or terminated by reason of the


desistance, settlement, compromise, restitution, withdrawal of the charges, or
failure of the complainant to prosecute the same.

This is because:

A proceeding for suspension or disbarment is not in any sense a civil


action where the complainant is a plaintiff and the respondent lawyer is a
defendant. Disciplinary proceedings involve no private interest and afford no
redress for private grievance. They are undertaken and prosecuted solely for the
public welfare. They are undertaken for the purpose of preserving courts of justice
from the official ministration of persons unfit to practice in them. The attorney is
called to answer to the court for his conduct as an officer of the court. The
complainant or the person who called the attention of the court to the attorney's
alleged misconduct is in no sense a party, and has generally no interest in the
outcome except as all good citizens may have in the proper administration of
justice. Hence, if the evidence on record warrants, the respondent may be
suspended or disbarred despite the desistance of complainant or his withdrawal
of the charges. 12

Now to the merits of the complaint against the respondent.

Practice of law embraces any activity, in or out of court, which requires the
application of law, as well as legal principles, practice or procedure and calls for legal
knowledge, training and experience. 13 While it is true that a lawyer may be disbarred or
suspended for any misconduct, whether in his professional or private capacity, which
shows him to be wanting in moral character, in honesty, probity and good demeanor or
unworthy to continue as an officer of the court, 14 complainant failed to prove any of the
circumstances enumerated above that would warrant the disbarment or suspension of
herein respondent.

Notwithstanding respondent's own perception on the matter, a scrutiny of the records


reveals that the relationship between complainant and respondent stemmed from a
personal transaction or dealings between them rather than the practice of law by
respondent. Respondent dealt with complainant only because he redeemed a property
which complainant had earlier purchased from his (complainant's) son. It is not refuted that
respondent paid complainant P340,000.00 and gave him ample time to produce its title and
execute the Deed of Redemption. However, despite the period given to him, complainant
failed to fulfill his end of the bargain because of the alleged loss of the title which he had
admitted to respondent as having prematurely transferred to his children, thus prompting
respondent to offer his assistance so as to secure the issuance of a new title to the
property, in lieu of the lost one, with complainant assuming the expenses therefor.

As a rule, an attorney-client relationship is said to exist when a lawyer voluntarily


permits or acquiesces with the consultation of a person, who in respect to a business or
trouble of any kind, consults a lawyer with a view of obtaining professional advice or
assistance. It is not essential that the client should have employed the attorney on any
previous occasion or that any retainer should have been paid, promised or charged for,
neither is it material that the attorney consulted did not afterward undertake the case
about which the consultation was had, for as long as the advice and assistance of the
attorney is sought and received, in matters pertinent to his profession. 15

Considering the attendant peculiar circumstances, said rule cannot apply to the
present case. Evidently, the facts alleged in the complaint for "Estafa Through Falsification
of Public Documents" filed by respondent against complainant were obtained by respondent
due to his personal dealings with complainant. Respondent volunteered his service to
hasten the issuance of the certificate of title of the land he has redeemed from complainant.
Respondent's immediate objective was to secure the title of the property that complainant
had earlier bought from his son. Clearly, there was no attorney-client relationship between
respondent and complainant. The preparation and the proposed filing of the petition was
only incidental to their personal transaction.
ASc HCD

Canon 21 of the Code of Professional Responsibility reads:

Canon 21 — A LAWYER SHALL PRESERVE THE CONFIDENCE AND


SECRETS OF HIS CLIENT EVEN AFTER THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT
RELATION IS TERMINATED.

Rule 21.01 — A lawyer shall not reveal the confidences or secrets of his
client except:

a) When authorized by the client after acquainting him of the


consequences of the disclosure;

b) When required bylaw;

c) When necessary to collect his fees or to defend himself, his


employees or associates or by judicial action.

The alleged "secrets" of complainant were not specified by him in his affidavit-
complaint. Whatever facts alleged by respondent against complainant were not obtained by
respondent in his professional capacity but as a redemptioner of a property originally
owned by his deceased son and therefore, when respondent filed the complaint for estafa
against herein complainant, which necessarily involved alleging facts that would constitute
estafa, respondent was not, in any way, violating Canon 21. There is no way we can equate
the filing of the affidavit-complaint against herein complainant to a misconduct that is
wanting in moral character, in honesty, probity and good demeanor or that renders him
unworthy to continue as an officer of the court. To hold otherwise would be precluding any
lawyer from instituting a case against anyone to protect his personal or proprietary
interests.

WHEREFORE, Resolution No. XV-2003-365 dated June 21, 2003 of the Integrated
Bar of the Philippines is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the administrative case filed
against Atty. Fermin L. Gonzales, docketed as A.C. No. 5280, is DISMISSED for lack of
merit.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr . and Tinga, JJ ., concur.


Footnotes

1. Rollo, p. 7.

2. Rollo, p. 7.

3. Rollo, pp. 1-2.

4. Id., p. 9.

5. Rollo, pp. 12-15.

6. Id., p. 18.

7. Id., p. 20.

8. Id., p. 22.

9. Id., p. 23.

10. Rollo, pp. 31-32.

11. Id., p. 27.

12. Rayos-Ombac vs. Rayos, A.C. No. 2884, 285 SCRA 93, 100-101 (1998).

13. J.K. Mercado and Sam Agricultural Enterprises, Inc. vs. de Vera, 371 SCRA 251, 259
(2001).

14. Maligsa vs. Cabanting, 272 SCRA 408, 414 (1997).

15. Hilado vs. David, No. L-961, 84 Phil. 569, 576 (1949).